There are few things I hate more than the “the demo/EP was better” guy. Nobody likes that guy. Nobody wants to hear anything from some too-cool-for-school blowhard championing one release just because it’s older and deriding another just because it’s newer and more well-known. So, it is with a heavy heart, that for one review, I’m going to be that guy.
The EP was better. I’m talking, as you may have guessed, about Polar Bear Club and their much-heralded debut, The Redder, The Better.
Don’t get me wrong: I love 2008's Sometimes Things Just Disappear and 2009's Chasing Hamburg, and spin them both regularly, but neither seemed to have the urgency or sense of completeness that their 2006 debut can boast. So now do you want the good news, or the great news? The good news is that this Rochester quintet has a new release in the teaser EP, The View, The Life.
The great news? It’s their best work since 2006.
Why? It’s more raw. It’s more dynamic. It’s more aggressive and more melodic at the very same time. It’s everything Polar Bear Club promised to be in the first 45 seconds of “Election Day”. This new effort kicks off with “Close Knit”, and I’d go so far as to say frontman Jimmy Stadt has never sounded better. The way he belts out "Change the game, or refuse to play? / Can you fill out lines without the page / True and sacred aren't the same" is chill-inducing and his trademark grizzled delivery picks up steam as Chris Browne’s deft riffing provides the perfect palate.
That’s always been one of PBC’s strengths—the ability to command the direction of a song with grand, sweeping choruses, yet never using them as a crutch. It’s always organic. Instead of falling back on the big-chorus-for-the-sake-of-having-a-big-chorus strategy, PBC implements them with picture-perfect form. They’re just as adept with irregular song structures; “Killin’ It” depends on the dueling riffs of Browne and guitarist Nate Morris to set up Stadt’s punchy delivery. The distortion-laden progressions are quick to change and recently departed drummer Emmett Menke facilitates that perfectly. An unsung force for the five-piece, Menke uses taut fills and thunderous rolls to set the stage for every change in sound and aggression. About halfway through “Killin’ It”, the pace is relatively subdued until Menke kicks in a roll and Stadt explodes in perfect time with his bandmates before returning to that mid-tempo feel.
And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
It would not be hyperbolic in the least to say “Screams in Caves” is one of the best songs that the band has written. Everything about it—from Stadt cutting the restraints and just wailing, to how good Browne’s clean riffing sounds underneath the muddiness of Norris and bassist Erik Henning, to the flawless sing-along chorus—fits in perfectly together, but it’s that chorus, that final chorus that really closes the EP in style. With Stadt singing "Fall to know it’s fine, we can’t expect much better, the trade for better times, the turn down without question / Don’t you feel the pull, it’s stronger know than ever, it left like melting snow, and came back tough as leather," and the riffing cascading brilliantly behind him, it’s tough to imagine the band composing a better song.
The band’s next full-length, Clash Battle Guilt Pride drops on September 13 via Bridge Nine, and they have a terrific opportunity to build on the incredible momentum from this EP and drop their best album to date.
I’m certainly not betting against them.